While Apple has yet to reach a deal with any of China’s telecoms to distribute its iPhone, the cellular black marketeers have sprung up to fill the void. It looks like the iPhone. It works like the iPhone. It even says “iPhone” on it. But it’s not an iPhone. It’s a Hi-Phone!
The New York Times recently did a great piece on black market cellphones, or “shanzhai” cell phones. According to the Times, it costs about $40 to make one of these knockoff cell phones. The best retail offer I could find for a Hi-Phone was around 600 kuai, or about 90 bucks.
While these lookalikes are decidedly not iPhones, they actually have some considerable functionalities that the JesusPhone lacks. They’ve got removable batteries. They can accommodate two SIM cards. They have expandable storage. The phones are not locked to any provider. They even come in “Mini” sizes!
And they really do work. While the interface isn’t as sleek as Apple’s polished product, the touchscreen does respond to taps, swipes and even pinches. I touched the camera app and was able to take pictures.
Still, the sales people got a little testy when I started snapping too many pictures and I had one clerk snatch the demo product away from my prying lens and hands. While the Chinese authorities have yet to respond to these illegal counterfeits, legitimate Chinese handset makers are complaining about their underground, and untaxed, competition. In the mean time thousands of vendors unabashedly hock these phones everyday in broad daylight. So if the iPhone is too expensive for you, just let me know.